I am a big fan of volunteering and believe that everyone should volunteer at some point in their lives and preferably on an ongoing basis. The sad thing is that because the Prime Minister David Cameron advocates volunteering as part of his idea for the so-called Big Society that a lot of people are going to be put off of doing it. Don’t get me wrong I am certainly not in favour of the axing of jobs and replacing paid workers with volunteers, which is something that has been happening in libraries and other public service organizations up and down the country.
That is a political matter and not what this article is about. What I am advocating is that we all at least consider doing some kind of unpaid work whether it is with a charity, arts organization, a school or simply working to produce something of benefit to our society that we are not paid for and are proud of.
When did the rot set in?
We are a capitalist society and that seems to mean more and more that we have an attitude of every man (or woman) for himself. It could be because of the decline of churches and organized religion, it might be because our children don’t go to Sunday school or Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies – it might be to do with the education system, but is more likely to do with the mass media and probably started with Thatcherism in the 1980s. Whatever the reason may be it seems like we are becoming a nation with no moral backbone. This was more than evident in footage from the recent riots where we saw footage of young people stealing from someone we thought they were going to help.
The reward is in the participation
Volunteering is often viewed as something for people who are retired or can’t get a job, or something you do to gain work experience, but it is so much more than that. Andrew Tindall one of the participants in The Young Apprentice says “Volunteering enhances you as a person. I think everyone should do it, even if it’s just an hour a week. It’s something different to do, to take your mind off things and it gives you perspective on life.”
Research by The Mental Health Foundation has shown that helping other people can have positive effects on our happiness levels and is generally good for our mental health. The positive emotions produced by helping others reduce stress and this boosts our immune system helping to fight against disease. It has even been shown that older people who give support to others live longer. The mental Health Foundation has a downloadable leaflet called “Doing Good Does You Good.”
There are other reasons to volunteer too though – if everyone was to volunteer for one or two hours a week we would become a kinder more caring society. Volunteering can give us greater empathy with and understanding of people in different social situations to ourselves. It gets us out of our own little worlds and enables us to see the bigger picture. Why not see what voluntary sector jobs are available now – or as a start do something kind for a friend or neighbour – acts of kindness tend to multiply!
- Image courtesy of Cheap photo stock
Sam Wright is a freelance writer with an interest in the voluntary sector.